"Why Am I So Bad At Being Good?": On Bad Boys (And Girls)

SURPRISE SATURDAY POST! So, yeah, I have a confession to make … *deep breath* I really like bad boy characters. I also really like bad girl characters, though “bad” in this case means different things- I’ll get to that too, so don’t worry.

To be clear, I am not talking about the “bad” boys/girls who actually reside on the villainous scale of things. (Though classic bad boys tend to break the law for their own purposes. A lot.) Here, I am talking about the “good” bad boys/girls, who are much more interesting to me because it isn’t about desperate law-breaking- it’s usually about gender. And so, I have done some (very basic) research, I came up with a list of established, defining characteristics for each trope …

Defining Characteristics of Bad Boys

  • Strong and silent
  • Troubled but cute
  • Stud i.e. sexually experienced
  • Is waiting for the love of a good woman to change him *barf*
  • Probably is abusive, but *sarcasm* he has a heart of gold, apparently, so calm down?!?!
  • Often a bad friend and generally sullen towards everyone else
  • Can lead to other trope-y characters, like the loveable rogue and the anti-hero
  • Ought to own a motorcycle

Defining Characteristics of Bad Girls

  • Ice queen i.e. strong and silent
  • Broken bird i.e. troubled but cute
  • S*** i.e. sexually experienced
  • Is waiting for the love of a good man to change her *barf*
  • Probably has been abused, because *sarcasm* what kind of a happy girl would take charge of her own sexuality?!?!
  • Often her friends are bad to her and even readers are encouraged to dislike her
  • Can lead to other trope-y characters, like the femme fatale and the vamp
  • Ought to own high heels

Perhaps I have exaggerated a point or two, but you can see why both tropes have been unappealing to me. The bad boys champion the “boys will be boys” idea, while girls (whether good or bad) are written with little agency and read with resistance. Of late, however, I think YA writers have done rather well at taking apart these Hollywood/TV tropes and reshaping these characters into something better and nuanced. As I mentioned in my last post, I have come to believe that the difference between a meh character and a great character is how the writers treat the nuances of the tropes that inform the character-building- whether they are doing it consciously or not.

To that end, I have prowled through my bookshelf and picked my favourite YA bad boys and bad girls:

Aristotle Mendoza

As I was contemplating this post, Chris Owen and I got to talking about bad boys, and he came up with the suggestion of Aristotle as a bad boy. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that Aristotle was a great example of the bad boy trope done right- maybe even the perfect example! As part of trying to figure out what it means to be a Mexican and a man, Aristotle embraces some interesting masculine signifiers, for example, lifting weights and driving a pick-up truck.

To everyone but Dante and the readers, Ari would come off as the “strong and silent”, “troubled but cute” guy. The great advantage to having the bad boy narrate his own story is that there is no real mystery- Ari is actually just a nice guy who is trying to figure out what it means to leave boyhood and become a man, especially when:

  1. he is not heterosexual at a time when being homosexual was seen as 100% feminine/freakish and
  2. he is trying not be his older brother while simultaneously trying to fill his shoes.

Sirius Black

Ah, yes, I was about fourteen and he was a thirty-something escaped convict. Not at all creepy. Glimpses into Sirius’ past reveals that, as part of his teenage rebellion against his muggle-hating parents, he pinned up playboy pictures on his walls and acquired a motorcycle and enchanted it to fly. So the bad boy image is not so much embraced as flaunted.

What is interesting to me about Sirius is that he is basically raised by Nazi supporters but he turned out … okay. I suspect that his loyalty to the Marauders began as a kind of rebellion, developed into a friendship, and then into a full-fledged political conviction. He chose to accept Remus’s lycanthropy. He chose to stand by James and Lily. He chose to stand by Harry even though it meant standing alongside people who once believed the worst of him and allowed him to rot in prison.He makes these changes only for his friends- there is no Great Love that causes him to change. That we know. Not to imply that he is perfect, though. Just complicated- as a person with his trying experiences might well be. Emotionally scarred teenager (thanks to his family) and an emotionally stunted adult (thanks to prison), but at the end of the day he tried to make his choices good ones.

Huntress Kaisa

It’s funny that the strong, silent thing applies so well with the fey. Faeries are typically cool, distant and mysterious- all characteristics shared with bad boys. Prince Sidhean of the faeries is strangely attracted to Ash, and she to him. But! He is not at all the bad boy of the piece. There is no bad boy. There is Kaisa the huntress. She is roguish, charming, and she may not own a bike, but she does have a horse and she teaches Ash to ride. *swoon* Also, there is no mystery that Ash must unearth- they accept each other for what they are. Much romance! No slut shaming! No ice princess trope! Just casually shattering the gender norms typical to traditional fairy tales! And yeah, Kaisa is one of my fave bad girls.

Day Altan Wing/June Iparis

These two are my power couple, despite only have read 1.5/3 books in the series. Usually the bad boy is tempered/changed by the good girl, or the bad girl by the good guy. This is one of the first bad girl/bad boy pairings I’ve read and actually enjoyed. They fit some of the stereotypes, but Marie Lu does a great job with their backstories and their immediate obstacles and they no longer seem like stereotypes. At least to each other and the readers, they must take down their walls and share their insecurities and weaknesses. I wish I could go into details, but basically everything is spoiler territory. Just. Read.

Theta Knight

I may be jumping the gun here, given that the second book hasn’t even come out but, Theta! So awesome! She’s a dancer and an actress, she’s a run away, and she lives with her *exaggerated gasp* male roommate, and she may/may not be going out with *double gasp* an African American boy. Basically, given that the book is set during the Jazz Age, she is a walking scandal. She is praised for her talents, but others see her a woman with loose morals. She is an ice queen sometimes, she does have a history of abuse, but it is not the love of a good man that changes her. She doesn’t change, really- our understanding of her character does. What I especially love about her is the way that Evie, the protagonist, sees her- no judgement, just acceptance. It’s a great way to introduce a “bad” girl, by not making a big deal about it.

Will Herondale

I am not a fan of the Herondales, but I have a soft spot for Will. SPOILERS AHEAD! So, we learn that Will has been cursed (at a terribly young age) by a demon: should he ever return the affections of those who loved/cared for him, they would die. This leads to an interesting reversal. As a result of the curse, he is really only seen as a bad boy by those closest to him. He is downright charming to people who barely know him. Shadowhunters see themselves as being above everyone else, but Will breaks this stereotype and is actually nice to (most) Downworlders he encounters. In fact, in the beginning, the only one who is able to control Will is his true love best friend Jem Carstairs. And towards the end, yes, he changes partly because of his love interest but, look, he also says things like this to Jem:

All my life, since I came to the Institute, you were the mirror of my soul. I saw the good in me in you. In your eyes alone I found grace. When you are gone from me, who will see me like that?

Will Herondale is actually a big sweetie. Pass it on.

Theresa Gray

MORE SPOILERS! She is a Victorian girl with a Victorian girl mindset, but over the series, we see her rebel against the patriarchal society she was brought up in. She is judgemental at first but learns and grows into one of my favourite female characters. She wears dresses, kicks ass, kisses who she damn well likes, and actually manages to get with both the guys in the love triangle. Not many would consider her a bad girl, but I insist that she is.

Lady Fire

Many would consider Fire a monster. Actually, she is part “monster” according to the lore of her world. But the thing that makes her truly monstrous is not her magic, but her intense beauty. And so, not only does she defy the regulation of female sexuality by pursuing a friend-with-benefits type arrangement, but Fire also fights the victim blaming culture that surrounds the reactions elicited by her unique beauty. No other female character (that I can think of) has such a great character arc- going from being apologetic to taking charge of her sexuality and her power with equal parts intelligence and kindness. If it were set in modern times, she’d definitely be classified a bad girl.

Ronan Lynch

Um. I have no idea how to explain Ronan Lynch, but I know he deserves a spot on this list. All I can say is, please read The Raven Cycle series. SPOILER! Not only is a he a great bad boy character, but he is also one of the best queer characters in fantasy I’ve read. He’s just … intense*:

“Ronan didn’t need physics. He could intimidate even a piece of plywood into doing what he wanted.”

*But in a good way! I promise!

Holly Prescott

Holly is gorgeous, popular, easily affectionate, and every boy’s dream. She is poised to be the mean girl. But Kami, the narrator and protagonist, does not see her like that. The only time that Holly is cagey and mysterious is when she is dealing with a) being the daughter of sorcerers (who are treated with fear and suspicion) and b) being in love with Angela. She is, initially, a person who is easily scared. Her incentive to change does not come from the love of a good guy but instead from Kami and from Angela, who is also a bad girl of sorts.

Jared Lynburn

Jared! I have so many feelings for him! He literally enters the scene by pummelling his way through the cricket team. The fantasy aspect of the series makes his character development rather difficult to talk about, especially since the series will be complete soon (TUESDAY!) and I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice to say that despite being mysterious, he is incapable of keeping secrets. I do have a few quotes to show you why he’s the best bad boy- partly because of his deprecating manner, and partly because his love interest Kami does not actually see him that way. The first is a slight spoiler from the final book:

“I hear girls like bad boys. I hope that’s true. Because, baby, I’m bad at practically everything.”

And he doesn’t do the whole oh-no-someone-hurt-you-my-princess-I-shall-show-my-worth-by-punching-them. Instead he’s kind of feminist about it:

“I thought you would like a weapon better than a rescue.

Okay, and a bonus one just to make you smile:

“A leather jacket,” Kami said as he shrugged into it. “Aren’t you trying a little too hard to play into certain bad boy clichés?”
“Nah”, said Jared. “You’re thinking of black leather. Black leather’s for bad boys. It’s all in the color. You wouldn’t think I was a bad boy if I was wearing a pink leather jacket.”
“That’s true,” Kami said. “What I would think of you, I do not know. So what does brown leather mean, then?”
“I’m going for manly,” Jared said. “Maybe a little rugged.”
“It’s bits of dead cow; don’t ask it to perform miracles.”

And that’s my list. So, do you have a favourite bad boy or bad girl? Or do you have other tropes that you fall for? Let me know in the comments section!

BTW, the quote in the title, for those unfamiliar, is from my favourite bad boy, Zuko from Avatar: The Legend of Aang, who I could not talk about because “Strictly YA Lit” list was long enough without including All Ages (All Awesome) Media:

Zuko gif

Happy Weekend!

  • Aristotle and Sirius are definitely “Bad Boys” that I could get behind. Bless deconstructed/reconstructed tropes.

    • Yash

      Right. I love that Sirius remains kinda “bad” to the end. It’s different. Also, yusss, Ari! <3

      • I think part of my satisfaction with/love for Sirius’ “Bad Boy” status is that a great deal of his “rebellion” is just him being a decent human being, which I think says a LOT about the Wizarding World (“He’s friends with a werewolf?!”).

        Rock on, Sirius, you adorkable, swaggering diamond.

        • Yash

          100% agree on that!

  • readmefirst33

    So glad I read this all the way through, Yash. I was seriously worried for a moment when I read that list. Phewww. Nicely done 🙂

    • Yash

      To-Do List: 1. Worry Jay terribly. (CHECK) 2. End up entertaining Jay (CHECK). My Saturday is a success. (Ugh, you thought I was going to confess my undying love for Stan from Streetcar, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?!)

      • jay

        Hahaha! Yes! I was honestly going to make a Streetcar related joke in my first comment.

        • Yash

          *shakes head sadly* You must have a very low opinion of me …

  • I think Ronan and Sirius would be my favorites on this list (unless Zuko counts?). I too have no idea how to describe Ronan. In the first book, I didn’t care that much about him. He seemed like the troubled, stereotypical “bad boy” character. And then came the second book and the points from his perspective. Almost immediately he became my favorite character in the series.

    • Yash

      RIGHT?! Ronan is actually darling (and a great, complex character) but I have no idea how to convey it. I am counting on my friend Nafiza to make a post on him after Blue Lily, Lily Blue is out. Perhaps she will be able to put words to his awesome.

  • I loved Cashore’s novel Fire- I read the book in a matter of days and then also listened to it on audio CD…and I kind of want to listen/read it again! Fire was such an unusual character and I think it’s partly because of what you said about how she goes “from being apologetic to taking charge of her sexuality and her power with equal parts intelligence and kindness.” She wasn’t the typical “let’s live happily ever after” heroine–she had real depth to her.

    • Yash

      I agree. Fire is the TRUE strong female character- that is to say, not because she has physical strength but because she has “real depth to her” as you say.

      And oooh, audiobook? It must be good if you want to listen to it again?

  • I never thought of Sirius Black as a “bad boy.” Huh. But he totally is. And awesome post, by the way. (ESPECIALLY THE ATLA REFERENCE. I love Zuko — he is DEFINITELY my favorite bad boy!)

    • Yash

      Haha, thanks! (And yes, Zuko is a well-written bad boy!)

  • ahahaha I freaking love Sirius and Zuko!!! Why is being bad so good? lol 🙂

    • Yash

      I love them too! 🙂

  • Yash

    Admittedly, I haven’t read those series and I haven’t seen anything but the pilot of SHIELD, but I do understand about liking what you like. Thanks for the comment!

  • Oh man is this perfect! I, too, am a sucker for the bad boys (but usually the subspecies – the rogueish ones). Sirius for example. Oh dear lord did I have the hugest crush on him! But seriously, there’s only one book on here I haven’t read, and all the characters you’ve chosen are pretty much some of my characters either. And I hadn’t realized before that a big part of why I like them is how they deal with tropes – but now that you’ve pointed it out I have the hugest urge to psychoanalyze all my favourite characters haha!

    (Also OMG BOOK THREE!!! I just got my library card since I moved and please dear god let me get my hands on the book asap!)

    • Are you KIDDING ME?!?! My library doesn’t have ANY of the Lynburn books in the entire system. The. Whole. Freaking. Giant. System. This of the biggest library I’ve ever been in. What am I going to do?!?

      P.s. Do you have a twitter account?
      P.p.s. I approve of any gifs involving Zuko. <3

      • Yash

        Oh, Elizabeth! I love when you leave me comments- they make me the happiest! Firstly, I am so glad you liked the post! Once, I was trying to explain to someone why I loved Jared so much and came up with a very weak, “He’s a bad boy but not really bad …” And they gave me a look. I realized that a lot of characters I like ARE bad boys/girls, and the appeal is all in the way they are written. Secondly, OMG YES UNMADE WAS SPECTACULAR! You may have to sweet-talk a librarian. Thirdly, yes! I have a Twitter account (in dire need of friends): https://twitter.com/SeeYashTweet Lastly, YUSSSS ZUKO! <3

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